Pickleball is becoming increasingly popular in the United States due to its fun nature and easy learning curve. While doubles play may be more common among pickleball enthusiasts, singles skills are essential for improving your overall game as they require you to make quick decisions while being aware of your opponent’s movements at all times. With proper footwork, shot selection, and court positioning, you can learn how to better control the game when playing singles in pickleball. Even if you prefer doubles play, honing your singles skills will give you an edge against any competition.
This article discusses how to improve your pickleball singles game with tips on strategies, paddle selection, and proper technique.
The most significant difference between doubles and singles in pickleball is that you have to cover the entire court by yourself. This means there is less short-game play (dinking at the kitchen line) and more focus on drives or long shots.
Let's go over some of the best tips for basic singles play.
In singles, many players go for a deep serve to gain an advantage. A deep serve gives you more time to react and position yourself for the return of serve. You'll want to vary the direction of the serve, but keeping them back as long as possible is critical to singles pickleball success. If you notice your opponent anticipating the deep serve, it's okay to mix in a short one every once in a while. Don't be predictable.
Singles play can be fast and furious, and if you like to serve from the corners, you may put yourself in a tough position on the third shot. Instead, try to serve most of your serves from the centerline since this will keep you in a better position as you wait for the next shot.
In doubles, you want to advance to the non-volley zone line as quickly as possible. In singles, especially when you're first starting out, it's best to play from the back third of the court. This gives you ample room to run forward and gather a soft shot but also limits your opponent's ability to surprise you with a lob or drive a ball past you.
Using the entire court is to your advantage in singles play. You want to wear down your opponent by consistently forcing them left and right. Aiming for corners can help you keep them on their toes and open up the court to your own shots more.
Shot-Selection in Singles Play
Typically, playing singles in pickleball is more aggressive than doubles. Instead of dinking rallies and being patient while you look for open lanes, singles play requires you to force your opponent out of position and use quick footwork so that you're in a great position.
Your weekend singles match likely won't have any cheerleaders on the side rooting you on, but if they were, "Be aggressive, B-E Aggressive" is what they'd say. And you probably want to listen to them. As mentioned, singles play is a more aggressive form of pickleball. Of course, there is always a fine line between going hard and seeming frantic, so make sure you tow that line well. Mostly, if you see an opportunity, take it. And keep that foot on the gas with hard drives, topspin shots, and deep serves.
Something to watch out for in singles matches are drop shots. Not so much when your opponent hits one at you, but when you choose to hit one at your opponent. Unless your opponent doesn't move well, most singles players will be able to get to your drop shot, and when they do, they have the ability to make you pay for it with a hard drive or a well-placed corner dink of their own. When they are deep, it's very tempting to go for that soft shot just over the net, but it may cost you the rally if you are off just a hair. Use drop shots sparingly unless you are against someone who just can't get to them.
Even though this is less kitchen play in singles than in doubles, it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist or there aren't great strategies to use when you or your opponent are hanging out there.
When you find your opponent is at the kitchen line, consider these three shot options:
Perhaps the scariest one of the three is the lob because if you don't get it high or deep enough, you've likely given your opponent an easy put-away and put yourself in a tough position. You'll usually want to consider a drive because it forces your opponent to react quickly and doesn't give them a great return opportunity. But, a drop shot (yes, we know we just said to use them sparingly) might be a great way to reset the rally and get yourself in a better defensive or attack position.
Developing a Strategy for singles play in pickleball is an essential step to becoming a successful player. Firstly, it requires analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your personal strengths can give you the confidence to push yourself further by playing more aggressively when needed. Understanding your weaknesses will help you become aware of any areas that need improvement.
We've talked a lot about offense so far in this article. But there is time in every match when you want to play defense, too. When you find yourself in a tough spot–let's say you've lobbed it poorly, or you reacted to a slam shot from your opponent and popped the ball straight up. You know what's about to come, and it's fierce. Your opponent's eyes get all big. Their arm goes high up in the air, and boom, they bring down the force of a sledgehammer onto that poor .88-ounce pickleball.
If you don't want to look silly flailing for the shot, then the first part of defending this attack is putting yourself in a good position. You need to read your opponent and try to predict where the slam will go. The fortunate part of this is that when they go to slam it, they need to look at the ball, not you, so read their body language. If they are square with your right or left side, move back and over toward that side. And if you can get to it, don't try to do too much with it. Simply get it back in play and try to keep the rally going.
Another time you want to play defense is when you're on the serve. Yes, that sounds counterproductive since you can only score on the serve. But the truth is, because of the double-bounce rule, serving puts you at a disadvantage on the third shot. You must stay back and wait for the bounce while your opponent is free to roam wherever they wish to get ready for the next ball.
Your third shot needs to be less focused on scoring and more focused on helping you find your next best position on the court. A good singles player understands when to mix in defense with offense and keeps rallies going until an opportunity to score or take the serve arises.
We're not saying you need to take a dance class, but it might not hurt! Positioning and balance play huge roles in singles pickleball. If you like to stay in one place or admire your shots, you may want to pay attention to what the pros do between shots instead and try to copy them. Notice how they rarely stay in one place. Or if they do, they are anticipating one direction over the other. Always keep a wide, athletic stance so you're ready for anything!
Speaking of the pros, another critical element of any sport, especially pickleball, is your equipment choices. While having good shoes that keep you healthy and on the court and light-fitting clothes to wick the sweat off of you (and make you look like you know what you're doing) are essential, your choice of pickleball paddle is the most critical decision you can make.
Using a beginning paddle is fine at the start–hey, you may not even know if you like the sport yet. But once you start moving up in ranks or find your competitive juices flowing, you need to find yourself a quality paddle that lets you play your absolute best.
For our money, it's all about feel and spin. You want a paddle that doesn't just slap the ball but helps you manipulate it and helps you accomplish any shot you want to take.
In conclusion, pickleball singles is a complex game that requires skill, strategy, and mental acuity to truly master. By following the tips provided in this article – from proper footwork and shot selection to selecting the right equipment for your level of play - you can improve your performance on the court and reach new heights with your pickleball singles game.